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Monica McCarty

REVIEW:  The Saint by Monica McCarty

REVIEW: The Saint by Monica McCarty

Dear Ms. McCarty,

The Saint is the first of your books I’ve read and, if they are all like this, it will be the last. This book combined the worst of the two components of historical romance. The history, of which there is a ton, is info-dumped in large swathes into your prose—I began to feel as though I were studying for a test– and the romance is so frustrating, by the novel’s end, it would have suited me just fine had Helen and Magnus (known as Saint), the star-crossed lovers of the tale, ended up apart.

The Saint by Monica McCartyThe book takes place in the era of the famed Bruce: Scotland in the early 1300’s. Saint is a MacKay and Helen is a Sutherland and, of course, the two clans share a long and bloody feud. Helen and Saint first meet at the Highland games when she is fourteen and he is nineteen. The two fall in love, despite only seeing each other for a few moments when the Games are held each year, but keep their love a secret. Finally, when Helen is 18 and old enough to wed, Saint, at the 1305 games, finally beats his Sutherland nemesis Munro for the first time. After the match, Saint finds Helen, gives her a long hard kiss–her first–and asks her to marry him. She, unable to choose him over her family, turns him down. Saint, instantly a man ruined for life, immediately accepts a dangerous offer by the Bruce to become one of the Kings’s newly formed secret elite Highland Guard created to defeat the English.

One chapter and three years later, Saint, feeling as though he’d rather be tortured by the English Crown’s vilest knaves, is headed to his best friend’s wedding. William “Templar” Gordon, a member of the Highland Guard and a close friend of Helen’s brother Kenneth, is marrying Helen. Even though Saint and Templar are best friends and are partners in the secretive Highland Guard, Templar has never mentioned his courtship—albeit scant—of Helen to Saint. So William has no idea that his best friend Saint—so called because he never whores around—holds an inviolate tendre for Helen. Nor does he have any idea that Helen, whose brother has pushed her upon William, is still profoundly in love with Saint.

Saint shows up Dunstaffnage Castle, Helen’s home, the night before the wedding is to take place. The two have not seen each for three years, not since she rejected his proposal, and when they lay eyes upon one another, both realize they are still madly in love. Helen, who has known for some time she should have chosen love over family, finds Magnus and asks him for another a chance. He, full of (arrogant) duty and honor, blows her off, telling her he feels nothing for her. Helen then marries William who, as the ceremony is taking place, suddenly gleans the feelings of his bride and best friend. On their wedding night, William, the hero in all this, refuses to take Helen’s maidenhood given that she loves his best friend. In the morning, he, Saint, and the Guard leave for an undercover mission to save the Bruce’s brother Edward from a siege in Galloway. William is essentially killed on the excursion although, since he’s only (to steal a phrase from The Princess Bride) mostly dead, in keeping with Guard code, Saint has to actually finish him off and make him unidentifiable. This latter action leaves him with enough guilt to ruin the rest of the novel.

He again rebuffs Helen, now a widow, and the two spend another half year apart. Then, as part of his service to the Bruce, Saint is thrown together with Helen, first at Dunstaffnage and then on the road with Bruce and his men. (Helen has some skill as a healer and the Bruce brings her along for his health.) Over and over again, Helen offers herself to Saint, but he, full of guilt for—please—“murdering” her husband and his best friend, forces himself to rebuff her. This goes on for way too long. Then, the two begin to act on their OVERWHELMING lust for one another but keep getting interrupted. This novel has more of what I can only call sexus interruptus than any I’ve read in recent memory. The two will be making out madly, and suddenly, have to stop. They will be about to do the deed, and suddenly, be forced by attackers to part. This happened so many times in the book, it infuriated me. If authors or publishers think this adds to the sexual tension, they’re wrong. It’s just annoying.

There’s a complicated plot here all about the Bruce, Scottish history, Edward, and a bunch of other stuff that never grabbed my interest. I haven’t read the other books in the series, so, I will concede that, had I, perhaps I might have cared more. But, coming into the exploits of the Highland Guard for the first time, I found their adventures to be pedantically rendered and rather dull.

So, I didn’t like the lovers or the plot. But, I did like one aspect of the book tremendously. Helen’s older brother, Will, head of the Sutherland clan, is, despite all his best intentions, madly in love with Muriel, an independent woman whose father trained her to be a healer. (She trepans!) Muriel lives alone in a cottage on the edge on Sutherland land where she and her father came, years earlier, so she could recover from a violent attack that left her unable to have children. Will wants to be with Muriel desperately but believes, as head of his clan, he must marry and produce heirs. He begs Muriel to be his leman and she, despite loving him as deeply as he loves her, says no, saying his offer dishonors her. Their story is moving, sad, and full of real emotions; I cared about their happiness and was thrilled whenever their tale replaced that of Helen’s and Saint’s.

If readers are really interested in the story of Robert the Bruce’s quest to unify Scotland and enjoy lovers who must overcome every sort of barrier possible before they can be together, perhaps The Saint will appeal to them. I’ll confess upfront that, since I know how the Scottish quest for independence ends up (I’ve read too many descriptions of Culloden—and yes I know that was hundreds of years later.), I find retelling of that time less than engaging. I also prefer a bit more joy in my books—if no one is happy until the very last chapter, neither am I. The Saint was not my cup of ale. For me, it was a C-, saved from a D only by the grace of the story between Will and Muriel.






REVIEW: The Chief by Monica McCarty

REVIEW: The Chief by Monica McCarty

I swore I reviewed this book before but I couldn’t find it in the archives so if you’ve read this, I apologize for the duplication.

The Chief by Monica McCartyDear Ms. McCarty:

I tried your debut book and I’m afraid that I haven’t read you since but a friend of mine (can I say it was Angela James?) emailed me and said I might like The Chief. Then she invoked the magic Scottish comparison (magic for me at least). It reminded her of old school Julie Garwood. My fingers couldn’t type in the title and hit the buy button fast enough at that prompt.

I’m happy to say that I enjoyed The Chief and I could see some glimpses of Garwood, but it wasn’t quite the same. Garwood specialized in the clumsy, adorable despite herself heroine and the brooding but long suffering hero. The Chief features a kind heroine hoping for a better life for herself despite her angry, cruel father and the unrest in Scotland; and a brooding hero wanting to stay out of Scottish politics. The Chief equation is really Navy Seals meets Julie Garwood. (This assessment was confirmed by the author’s note at the end of the book and then all the promo pieces which I rarely read before I start a book).

Set against the back drop of the Western Isles of Scotland, The Chief explores the birth of the Highlander warrior myth. In 1305, Scotland was under the brutal boot of Edward I. William Wallace had just been killed in a gruesome fashion and Scotland floundered for leadership. Robert Bruce conspires with Harry Lamberton to create secret army of highly skilled, highly trained warriors who would employ guerrilla like tactics against the English. (The book refers to these as pirate style fighting).

Harry Lamberton is sent off to do Bruce’s recruiting. This story does not romanticize Bruce but rather characterizes him as an opportunist who was more interested in defeating John Comyn than the British. Lamberton and the others want Tormod MacLeod to lead this group and train these warriors. MacLeod’s legend is stories and while they acknowledge it is likely exaggerated, Bruce points out that “myth can be every bit as powerful as truth.”

Tor, as he is called, has no interest in training these warriors. Away from the borderland, the folks in the Isles have been able to remain mostly apolitical almost of a necessity for there are more internecine fighting than they know what to do with. Clan X is fighting against Clan Y and marginally suffering a truce with Clan W so that the two can ban against Clan Z.

Angus Og MacDonad, King of the Isles, dangles the comely marriage bait of the daughters of Sir Andrew Fraser in front of Tor but he isn’t biting. Fraser, imprisoned for years by the English, must have this alliance to crush the English. He threatens and drugs his daughter, Christina, into setting a trap for Tor. Christina wants to be married, wants to have a home away from her father, and looks upon Tor as a white knight when he inadvertently saves her from some brutes outside the walls of the keep.

Christina has been reading illicit copies of Lancelot and Guenivere’s stories and begins to create a little fantasy around Tor. She feels guilty at trapping Tor but is helpless. She is but a woman in a dangerous and physical man’s world.

Tor and Christina’s life together could have started out very poor based on this deception but the story does not rest upon that easy convention. Instead, Tor understands Christina is a pawn and does not blame Christina for her role. The conflict between Tor and Christina is one of duty over pleasure. As Christina begins to bring softness and liveliness to Tor’s austere keep, Tor becomes increasingly conflicted. Even though he enjoys his physical coupling with Christina, he sleeps each night with his clansmen in the great hall.

Tor’s devotion to his clan stems from seeing his enemies kill his father, rape and kill his mother and virtually destroy his clan. His entire purpose in life has been to become strong enough to prevent harm to his people. Even spending one night with Christina seems to threaten this. Tor is unable to create a balance between his need for Christina and his welcomed duty to the clan. The more that he feels for Christina, the more that he pulls away. Christina, of course, is bewildered and hurt by Tor. She’s not one to belabor her situation, however, and tries to make the best out of her situation. What makes this even more interesting was that Tor knew that Christina wanted more, maybe even loved him, and he had to resist any emotional softening as well.

I really enjoyed this “marriage in trouble” storyline and thought that the focus on a very natural conflict helped to offset part of the corniness of the story. The creation of the special forces team for Robert the Bruce seemed too steeped in modern day ceremony complete with nicknames for each operative, the corny name for the group and the ceremony. Tor was not a very romantic person and the nicknames, ceremony and name for the group seemed at odds with his practical nature. I could see those things coming from Christina but not from Tor. At one point, I wondered if the Scribe Virgin would make an appearance.

Interestingly, the Author’s Note added a huge sense of realism to the story but without the corniness. Having said that, I’m completely on board with the Highlander Guard books. B

Best regards,


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This book is published by Ballantine, a division of Random House and NOT a member of the Agency Five.